Planning a trip is a fun process as you investigate where to stay, what to see, and make travel arrangements. However, if you are traveling internationally, there are several things that you should be sure to do in addition to the actual planning of the trip itself. Some of these things need to be done several weeks in advance, so be sure to consider them as part of your planning process. They are simple steps that could help you avoid your trip of a lifetime from turning into the disaster of a lifetime. We originally wrote this article in 2018, but the information is as pertinent today as it was then, if not more so. (This article contains a couple of affiliate links and, if you purchase, we may receive a small commission)
Check Visa and Passport Requirements – Be sure to see whether the country you are visiting requires a tourist visa in order to enter and how long the visa will be valid. Also, be sure to know whether there are limitations as to how many entries are allowed using the visa (something we learned the hard way when we went to Vietnam). There are usually requirements as to how many blank pages you need to have in your passport as well as how much longer than the dates of your travel that the passport will be valid for as well. Although some countries allow you to get your visa at the airport upon your arrival, we recommend that you get your visa in advance to avoid any delays. We have heard of people being stuck for days trying to bet their visa due to a variety of issues. Also, be aware that to get some visas, you will need to send your original passport, so you’ll need to coordinate getting the visa around any other travel you might be doing. We use iVisa when planning our trips.
Register Your Trip with Your Embassy – There are a couple of reasons for registering your trip (in the US, you can register with Safe Traveler Enrollment Program, STEP). Usually you will receive alerts for the country that you are visiting, such as protests, violence, or other issues in specific cities or regions. Another reason is that if something bad should happen and your family at home has concerns, information about your trip is registered in order to allow officials to start an investigation.
Confirm what Vaccinations and Immunizations are Required – Especially in the world post-Covid, there are many different requirements regarding proof of a negative test and there will likely be requirements for a proof of a vaccination in the near future. Depending upon where you are traveling, there are often required and recommended vaccines and immunizations. Some of these can be expensive and need to be done weeks before travel, so be sure to contact your doctor once you have checked the list. Also, some countries require proof of the vaccinations and in those cases you will want to have the official form. Also, if taking any prescription medicine with you, be sure to carry them in there original containers with the prescription labels otherwise you might have your medicine confiscated. In some cases, you may need a letter from your doctor stating what you are taking and why you are taking it as proof that you are not smuggling in pharmaceuticals.
Contact Your Bank and Credit Card Issuers – We always recommend that you don’t carry a lot of cash with you when you travel and that you take money out of an ATM upon your arrival. You need to contact your banks and credit card companies prior to your trip so that they can note your account to avoid any transactions being rejected as fraudulent. Be sure to include any countries where you have layovers as well as you might want to grab a bite to eat or buy something during the time that you have as you wait for the next leg of the trip to begin. Also, be sure to find out if there are any daily withdrawal or spending limits on your accounts or foreign transaction fees. It is important to note that even though you report your trip with the bank, there is no guarantee that it won’t still be marked as fraudulent, so you should keep the number of the fraud department with you, which is separate from customer support and is usually available 24/7. Although we don’t recommend taking a lot of cash, we do recommend that you take a small amount, about enough for a taxi and food, and convert it into local currency if possible.
Take Photos of Your Travel Documents and Email Them to Yourself – It is always a good idea to take photos of your travel documents and take them with you, but you should email them to yourself as well. If something happens and everything is stolen from you, having the ability to go to a computer and access your email will give you the ability to print out new copies to take to the local embassy. In addition to your travel documents, passport and visas, also make a list of all of the international numbers for your banks and credit cards. If your wallet is stolen and you need to contact your banks, having those numbers available will make it much easier to get replacements and keep fraudulent charges from occurring.
Buy Travel Insurance – There are a variety of ways to get travel insurance and, in general, we always recommend having it. Be sure to look at what types of things are covered as not all plans are the same. Some will cover the costs of cancelled transportation, some will pay for transportation in the event of a natural disaster, and others will provide medical insurance, including evacuation services. Clearly, the location and type of travel that you are doing will help you determine the extent of coverage that you need, but having at least minimal insurance is good for the peace of mind that it provides. We have heard so many stories from people where having travel insurance turned out to be a true savior and other stories from people who didn’t get travel insurance and it turned out disastrous. We have all learned from Covid that circumstances can change in an instant and money spent can’t always be recouped if you are not insured. A couple of excellent resources are Visitor’s Coverage and World Nomads.
Check Travel Warnings and Advisories for the Region – Similar to registering your trip, you should check out travel warnings for the country that you are visiting. We would also recommend checking the advisories and warnings for neighboring countries as well. In certain cases, you might discover that not only are there warnings, but there can also be restrictions on travel to certain parts of the country. Knowing this information in advance will help you with your planning so that you don’t put a location on your itinerary that might put you and your companions at risk.
Check for the Local Public and Government Holidays – You may do some of this as part of your normal planning process if you are looking for a celebration or festival, but it is good to know if the places you want to visit might be closed. It might also affect transportation schedules and your ability to see government run sites. Additionally, depending on the country that you are visiting, some holidays are regional and not national, so be sure to pay close attention to that as well.
Provide Your Trip Details and Hotel Information to Family and Friends – In case something were to happen to your cell phone, having a way for people to get messages to you is important. Also, if there are issues with your transportation, the people who care about you can check to see if there is a reason that they potentially haven’t heard from you. They may never use the information, but they will appreciate your sharing the information with them just in case.
Check What Currencies the Country Accepts and the Conversion Rates – Some countries will accept multiple types of money and that might avoid the need for converting money when you arrive. Some countries even prefer money from other countries other than their own due to issues with their government and inflation. The opposite can also be true, they may accept money from other countries, but might frown upon having to convert it to use locally. You need to understand the current conversion rates and there are apps and web sites that will provide you that information. As you walk into a store or restaurant, it is important to know what you are really spending when you make a purchase. We typically use an app on our phone and then round up for the conversion rate. For example, if the conversion 1 local dollar is 7.3 US dollars, we will calculate it as 8 US dollars when we see a price. That way we know that what we spend will possibly be less than we thought, but that is better than finding out it was more than you had budgeted.
None of these suggestions will guarantee that you have a wonderful time on your next trip, but they just might be your savior if things don’t go as expected. We follow all of these whenever we travel internationally and consider them to be just as important as planning the highlights of our trip.